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Thursday, February 15


When I posted the photo the other day, I put a file on my computer's desktop called "Camper". This has served as a reminder to write another reminiscence (can you remind a reminiscence?) from my days of summer camp leading.

I worked at a summer camp in the summers of 1991-1993 inclusive. In the first year we were stationed in a boarding school in Brecon, Wales. In the second and third years we were in a different boarding school somewhere near Banbury. In fact, I later met someone who had worked at that school, which has no relevance to the story, but shows how apparently random things can link people to each other.

Anyway. I learned a lesson from the story I'm about to tell you. I think it probably happened in the 3rd and final year that I did summer camping. Before I tell you the story, I'll tell you the lesson. I think you can see the same lesson in a Mel Brooks movie - possibly High Anxiety. The lesson is this. People don't notice something you want to conceal if you make something else more conspicuous. For example, once I was worried about how out of place I looked, gatecrashing someone's restaurant visit, when I was really in need of some drinks and not in need of some food, so I did something much more memorable than the gatecrashing.

So, bear this in mind. If you feel like you're about to be embarrassed by something, try to upstage that embarrassment with something different.

This story begins at about 11 o'clock at night. I was trying to get to sleep in the "house" where we slept a bunch of 10-13 year old boys. They were a spirited lot, and had decided not to behave. I heard a disruption and so had to go and sort it out. I discovered that I was the only member of the staff in the place. The "staff room" was in the adjacent building, and I was loathe to go over and ask for help right away. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, I was in my pyjamas and dressing gown. Secondly, in my view, asking for help quieting down a few excitable kids shouldn't have been necessary.

So, I went upstairs and started quieting down the kids. I got the disruptive room sorted, then the next room set themselves off. I went and sorted them out, but the first room got going again. As I returned to that room, the second started up, then a third. To be perfectly honest, it was snowballing and it needed a gang of adults to come along and shout a bit and stop it. I was smart enough to realise that I wasn't enough of an influence to fix the problem. So, I had to go and get help. I also didn't have time to get dressed. This was a source of embarrassment to me. I couldn't delay. I had to go and get help. However, there were girls in the staff room. Yes, I was still at an awkward stage in my relationship with women (things are so much better now... excepting the broken relationships and general geekiness).

Frankly, the thought of wandering up the stairs to the staff room in my pyjamas to say (imagine I had a nasal twang for this) "Er, excuse me, could I have some help please? the kids are bullying me" seemed like too shameful a thing to do. So, how do I fix this. I used my general purpose upstaging-the-embarrassment trick. I climbed up the fire escape in my slippers and PJs. By which I mean the fire escape of the building where the staff room was located, rather than there being a fire escape in my clothing. I know now that it was a silly thing to do, to climb up a fire escape ladder wearing only slippers - this would not pass a health and safety exam on the subject of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). However, I was young and quite capable of pulling this off without injury. Then I walked across the flat roof of the building and knocked on the window of the room in which my co-staff-members were sitting drinking and smoking - two things I didn't do. Ah, the gulf between me and the cool kids.

It got a laugh. People might remember "that time Ashley came in through the window". Maybe they won't. Maybe only I remember it. I certainly don't think they even noticed that I was in my PJs. Job done.

I left via the window aswell. It would have been inappropriate otherwise.

The minor incident in the house was sorted out and everything was fine with the world again.

And that's the story. I remember very little else from the summer camp, except the night we got pissed on chocolate milk.

Ah you want to hear (read) that one? Ok. It was after everyone had left the place. End of week 4. It was my job to put things back as we'd found them. Generally speaking this involved reversing the process of lugging beds about that I'd done 4 weeks previously and incrementally over the course of events. There were other things to return to their rightful places. I had a colleague to help me with the job. He was a school friend who had, coincidentally, joined the staff that year. We both lived in Leeds so had already returned to the city for a day - to get our A-Level results (I drove back so fast, I'd had to lie about the time we left, or it would have been obvious how much I'd been speeding). Anyway, these random facts aside, we had been left to lug stuff about. Once we were done, we got to go home. We'd been left with some money to go out and buy food, and a school full of random physical-labour jobs to do.

The day went quite well. At some point, the liaison officer with the school asked us how we were doing. Mike said to him, and I quote: "Not bad, though I'm having trouble with my libido". There was a pause. Then no reaction. Then we got on with our work. I was confused about what he meant. I was convinced there was something wrong with what he'd said, but I didn't know whether the word "libido" had a meaning other than "sex drive", so I assumed that Mike, a smart guy, wouldn't have made a mistake. The reaction from the liaison officer hadn't been shock, so I assumed it was some exchange between them that went over my head.

I later discovered that Mike meant "lumbago". It still makes me chuckle now.

Anyway, we laboured and laboured and pretty much finished. Then we went out for a pizza hut and pigged ourselves. We had a few jobs to do when we returned. We bought some celebratory chocolate milk for after we'd completed them. We slaved some more and then, tired but in good spirits, we sat down, cracked open the chocolate milk, and giddy with calories and exhaustion, we got giggly. All I remember is that I said something like "I think the way girls masturbate is absolutely SMASHING" and then a wave of utter drunken confusion hit us and we laughed so hard that it hurt. We may as well have been drunk. After all, we had our pints (of chocolate milk) and we were friends. And that was a good feeling.

Later, as a student, I would order chocolate milk and a pint glass to pour it into (I know the bar staff at my student union were deeply unimpressed with that), but it was never the same.


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